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Was the Ricky Nolasco trade a mistake?

Twins fans were ecstatic when the Twins found a buyer for struggling veteran Ricky Nolasco, but now he’s thriving with his new club.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Oakland Athletics
“Thank GOD I’m back in California.”
Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

When Twins interim GM Rob Antony got the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to take Ricky Nolasco in a deal bundled with Alex Meyer, most of Twins Territory called it an unqualified success. From Mike Bates to Seth Stohs to myself (who graded the deal “U.S. Extra Fancy” using the USDA’s grading system for apples), no one could believe Antony found a taker for a struggling, over-paid veteran pitcher and a one-time pitching prospect who didn’t seem to pan out and hadn’t even pitched in months.

Even Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press was amazed, writing:

The two new fellows could get run over by a bus while reporting to the Twins and the trade still would be considered an unqualified success.

Fast-forward a couple months to now, however, and it looks like we might all have to eat our words.

Before being traded, Ricky Nolasco has a 5.13 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 124.2 innings pitched. That’s not very good, especially when you’re paying the guy $12 million a year. Since being traded to the Angels, however, Nolasco has been the serviceable veteran the Twins had hoped he’d be, holding a 3.21 ERA over 73 innings. He’s only failed to go at least 6 innings once, and even managed to pitch a 9 inning, complete-game shut-out against the Reds on August 31st.

So what’s the deal? Apparently Angels pitching coach Charles Nagy suggested to Nolasco as soon as he arrived that he should use his slider more. Nolasco has, and it’s paid off. “I didn’t use it much before, but they gave me confidence in throwing it and getting those quick outs,” Nolasco told the LA Times. “Getting those ground balls is huge. I’m getting quick outs, and instead of those balls being put in play, they are straight into the ground.”

That’s right—the Angels somehow figured out how to out pitch-to-contact the friggen’ Twins.

Alex Meyer was the other piece the Twins gave up in the trade, and also the piece the Angels were mostly after. He’s been making strides with the Angels too. Although he hasn’t exactly been stellar, the fact he’s pitching at all, let alone in the big leagues, is impressive. At the time of the trade, Meyer hadn’t pitched since May 3rd, having been sidelined for months with some mysterious injury. Now Meyer has managed a 4.58 ERA over four starts as part of the Angels’ big league rotation, right next to Nolasco.

Not mad yet? Well then there is this:

They’re enjoying themselves! They’re happy! They probably get to go to the beach and enjoy themselves even though it’s September because now they play in southern California! Arrrgggadgaergerfq!!!!

The Twins’ return in the trade was struggling big league pitcher Hector Santiago and minor league relief pitcher Alan Busenitz. Santiago has only continued to struggle since coming over to the Twins, and in fact, turned the struggle up a notch. While he had a 4.25 ERA in 120.2 innings with the Angels, he’s had a 6.22 ERA over 55 innings with the Twins. His average hits per 9 innings has gone from 7.8 to 10.1, and his average home runs per 9 innings has gone from 1.5 to 2.1.

Busenitz has been promising so far in the Twins organization, but he’s only seen very limited action. He spent his entire time after the trade with the AAA Rochester Red Wings, where he appeared in six games and pitched a total of 7.2 innings. His 3.52 ERA and zero home runs surrendered are promising—but again, it was only 7.2 innings of work.

So was the Ricky Nolasco trade a mistake? Considering the year the Twins are having, it’s easy to blame them for doing another thing wrong, but it’s probably still too early here to say. The Twins did get Santiago, who’s five years younger than Ricky and could turn things around. Nolasco still has time in his career to regress back to a 5.00 ERA. Meyer might not fully figure it out, and maybe Busenitz could turn into a future bullpen arm

But yeah... things aren’t looking too great for the Twins so far.